My shin collided painfully with something and I cursed under my breath. Movement from the bed behind me told me I had woken Jamie up, something I had been trying hard not to do.
“Are ye alright, Sassenach?” He asked groggily.
“Yes, I’m fine.” I grumbled, groping around to find the water jug in the dark.
I sloshed the liquid blindly into a cup and made my way back to the bed.
“Ye dinna sound fine,” his voice rose in elevation as he sat up. ”Is yer heart burning?”
“The term is heartburn, Jamie. It’s not actually on fire.”
It just feels like it.
I crawled gingerly back into bed, being especially careful not to spill the liquid relief. I hadn’t been able to purchase any of the herbs I knew helped relieve heartburn while we were in Inverness, and didn’t find any growing in our travels. This meant I was stuck with plain old water and patience as my remedy for this common pregnancy symptom.
My husband tipped his head back with a cheeky grin as I settled in beside him, his teeth flashing in the darkness. “No’ even for me, mo chridhe?”
I groaned at his attempt at a joke and poked him, resisting the urge to upend the cup of water over his head.
“Only for you, James Fraser.”
Jamie caught hold of my hand, kissing the back of it. “Jenny says tha’ means the bairn will have lots o’ hair.”
I snorted into the cup, taking a small sip. “He better.”
The mention of his sister made my heart ache. Having three children herself and my closest friend, I desperately wished I could talk to her.
“Go easy on yer mam, aye?” Jamie grinned while he spoke to the child within me, his hand finding the growing swell beneath my shift. “Ye dinna have to be boastin’ a full head o’ hair from the start, ye ken.”
He spoke to our child often and it never ceased to make me smile. Jamie had made a habit of telling the baby goodnight and good morning every day, although the baby never quite managed to stick to his father’s schedule. The growing child found the rising and setting of the sun irrelevant to his life in utero, sleeping or stretching whenever it suited him.
“Tell me about dinner with the Laird,” I urged, needing a distraction from my discomfort.
The Laird of Lovat, or more accurately his Lady, had invited us to Beauly for an extended stay, in order to properly thank us for saving their son’s life. We hadn’t been here long, having arrived at dusk and it being around midnight now, but they were already proving to be more than gracious hosts.
We we’re immediately shown to our rooms in order to freshen up, and I had promptly fell asleep.
I certainly hadn’t been my intention.
We were to be seated at the head table as guests of honor at dinner. This was an opportunity we needed to take full advantage of, something that could determine our lot in life here in the sixteenth century.
I had been loaned a spare gown for the event. It was a deep blue and patterned after what, I assumed, was the latest fashion in the Highlands. Unfortunately, once freed from my dirty clothes and a layer of filth was removed, my body refused to do my bidding. I sat brushing the same strand of hair for a good five minutes before Jamie ushered me to the bed. One moment I was arguing that I needed to get dressed, the next it was the middle of the night and I had heartburn.
Jamie shifted into a more comfortable position beside me and began to speak, “It went well, I think. They send their regards and wish us to remain at Beauly until the bairn is born.”
“But that won’t be for months!” I exclaimed. Hospitality was one thing but that seemed a bit excessive.
“Umhmm,” came Jamie’s Scottish acknowledgement. “They seem to be quite taken wi’ us, Sassenach.”
“And what do they expect us to do until then, just twiddle our thumbs?”
Jamie seemed to like that idea. His hands gravitating further south, thumbs tracing circles on my inner thighs.
“That’s not what I meant,” I squirmed.
“Oh, aye?“ His thumbs increasing in pressure and urgency.
I dribbled a little of my water onto his head and he laughed, kissing the place his thumbs had just left. “No’ just yet, mo nighean donn?”
“No,” I answered dryly. While that had proven to be a more than adequate distraction in the past, I didn’t think he’d appreciate being vomited on in the midst of intercourse.
He rolled back onto the pillow, his hands quietly resting on the swell of my abdomen as he got back onto topic. “I ken what ye mean. Frasers may be stubborn, but we dinna let an opportunity pass by when we see it.”
My brows furrowed in thought as I took another sip of water, “And just what sort of opportunity would we be?”
“The healer here is getting on in years, has the rheumatics something awful by the sound o’ it.”
Listen to him! I hid a smile behind my cup. Diagnosing patients all in his own.
“Ye’ve stirred up no a wee bit o’ clishmaclaver with your skills, Sassenach, and it seems the Laird and Lady see us as some sort o’ guardians.”
“What?” I sputtered, the water partially going up my nose.
He shrugged and took the cup from me as I coughed. “They willna come out and say it, but they think we have special powers.”
Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, not again.
“Wait, we?” I asked.
“It seems the lads saw my back… tha’ combined with the rescue and ye bringing Willie back from the dead…”
“He wasn’t dead!” I protested.
Jamie’s eyebrows rose.
“Well, not yet anyway.” I aqueased. “His heart was still beating.”
“Be that as it may, Sassenach, the lad wouldna be alive without us.” He said simply.
“They think we’re guardians, not healers?” I asked, wondering at the distinction.
An amused smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, “Drowning seems to be something ye save someone from, no’ heal them of.”
“The fact that ye’re wi’ child has no’ escaped them either.” He continued.
Looking down at him curiously, I asked, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I heard one woman speculate that ye’re Niamh herself.” He said with no small amount of amusement.
“Niamh?” The name didn’t sound familiar.
“A Queen of Tír na nÓg, the land of youth, who becomes pregnant with Oisìn’s child.”
“Which would make you Oisìn?” I inquired, completely intrigued.
“’Tis only a tale, and an Irish one a’ that.” He shrugged off the connection, “Although they do travel thru time, come to think of it.”
I stared at him, “You’re joking.”
“Nae, Sassenach, no’ at all. Oisìn spends, what he thinks is, three years in Niamh’s kingdom, but, when he returns to his own, he finds ‘tis really been three hundred and the people he knew are now that o’ legend.” He explained.
“Jamie, I spent three years with you in the past,” a chill ran down my spine, heartburn completely forgotten, “and now we’re with ancestors that we thought of as all but legend.”
The connections dawned on him as they had me, “'Tis no’ far off, is it?”
“A little too close for comfort.” I muttered.
We were silent for a time, each considering how the clan viewed us. I grew more and more uncomfortable with the notion of being thought of as something akin to a deity.
“So what exactly do they expect the Queen of Youth to do?” I set down the now empty cup near the edge of the mattress and snuggled down next to my husband, needing to feel his strong arms around me. “Or am I simply to be Laird’s new lucky charm?”
He pulled me close. “I dinna ken, nor do I think they ken, but they’re no’ about to let us leave until they figure it out.”
I groaned at the prospect of being watched like a hawk yet again, my every action dissected and discussed. “Please tell me you talked of other things besides our supposed supernatural abilities and origins.”
“Oh, aye,” he grinned. “We discussed his horses a great deal, would ye like to hear about that?”
With a contented sigh, I answered, “Not particularly.”
“Feeling better, then?” His eyes searched my face, needing more than words in confirmation.
My stomach growled loudly in answer. “I’m starving,” I added unnecessarily.
Placing soft kiss on the tip of my nose, he rolled out of bed. He lit a lamp, the warm glow illuminating his way across the room. Jamie picked up a large wooden tray laden with food and carefully set it on the bed in front of me.
“Mrs Gordon, the cook ye ken, wanted to be sure ye had food when ye woke,” he beamed, proud to supply the very thing I wanted.
I picked up the bannoch closest to me and took a bite. Trying to smile around my full mouth, I offered one to him. He took it and nibbled at it while he spoke, “She wanted me to tell ye tha’ she an’ her daughter are the midwives here at Beauly. The Lady Janet speaks highly o’ them, too.”
The food in my mouth seemed to turn to sawdust and I swallowed hard. Jamie seemed to guess the source of my discomfort, squeezing my hand with an attempt at a smile. I could tell he was trying desperately to hide it, but the fear was evident in his eyes.
I would need a midwife come November, wouldn’t I? I knew it would be different this time. Longer, more arduous, than with Faith.
I had assisted Jenny in the births of her daughters. My brain recited the stages of labor and delivery, reminding me that, while I knew how it worked, I was very unprepared to actually do it myself.
Terrified, was more like it.
But there was a nagging worry that preempted the fear of childbirth.
Crawling onto Jamie’s lap, I clung tightly to him, whispering his name into the darkness.
“Aye, mo chridhe?“ He murmured in my ear.
“What if it happens again?”
A shudder ran thru him at the thought that we could lose this baby too. “Ye havena had any bleeding, have ye?”
I shook my head, my face buried his neck. “But it’s early, I hadn’t yet then, either.”
“We willna lose the bairn, Claire,” his voice was steady, sure. “I give ye my word.”
The promise loosened the grip of fear around my heart, but the knowledge that miscarriages often had more to do with the baby than the mother’s actions kept the fear from dislodging all together.
“It’s not something we can stop, Jamie. If there’s something wrong with the baby, there’s nothing you or I can do to prevent it from happening again.” My words were desperate, my voice quavering.
He lifted me, turning me towards him so that the baby was pressed between us. My legs wrapped around him and held fast. The corner of his mouth lifted as he felt the baby move within me.
“Our bairn is healthy and growing within ye, Sassenach.” His hands cradled my face, his thumb caressing my cheekbone. “I give ye my promise, this time will be different.”